Athens Portraits [3]: Angling for business

more than a year ago
He’s lying in wait for you as you amble down the streets of Plaka. Lurking behind the colourful displays of souvenirs in the countless tourist shops or basking in the shadows of the many cafeterias and tavernas, he’s just waiting for you to slow your pace so he can pounce on you with a friendly smile and an eager “Yes pliz”.
He’s that epitome of Greek small businessmen, the tourist tout. And he’s not one to let a possible sale get away without giving it his very best.
His natural habitat is in the back of his shop – usually a narrow establishment crammed with a crazy collection of mass produced ceramic copies of ancient urns, ‘genuine’ Greek worry beads and backgammon sets, and all manner of Brand-Hellas produce – but the moment he spies movement on the street outside, he’s out there at the speed of Hermes to engage his prey.
Maybe he’s an old-timer or one of the younger generation of chancers that see their future coming from the pockets of the tourists that flock to Athens every year. But one thing they all have in common is an unshakable faith in the power of personal engagement. Getting a conversation going is key to making a sale – so they happily use their native Greek love of chat as a powerful marketing tool. Your casual “just looking” will only result in him launching into a narrative about the ‘superior’ souvenirs he sells or silent hovering a metre or so behind your shoulder until you break down and buy something.
And along with your plastic bag of memorabilia and gifts for the folks back home, you’ll probably get the story of his life into the bargain.
As you walk away, you’ll most likely come across his cousin as he touts for business at his souvlaki joint across the way, offering a welcome sit-down after your walk-about and the chance to sample a traditional meal of gyros and Greek salad at double the price you could pay in some of the cheaper parts of the city.
He smiles, he cajoles, he may even tell you how beautiful your eyes are – but don’t be fooled, flattery is an important part his sales pitch. If you’re female – regardless of age – he’ll turn on his charm. These self-styled ladies’ men that target foreign visitors are known as “kamakia”.
If you’re young, pretty and unaccompanied, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to fend off dozens of amorous declarations as you make your way along the narrow alleys. You may even hear a series of whistles, kissing noises and other sound effects that they imagine you will be secretly delighted to inspire.
But don’t worry – they may be a nuisance, but they are largely harmless and won’t be offended when you turn them down with a firm but friendly “No thank you”. It’s par for the course for them. They know that every sale made or tourist sat at their table, they have to deal out their “Yes pliz” patter and life story dozens of times. And, after all, they are part of the attraction that keeps visitors flocking to the streets of Plaka and other tourist traps throughout Greece.


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